We set up Stonac in July 2000 after I left my job in May that year. The company I worked for was sold and I fancied a change so took the plunge after 16 years at Lex.
You may deduce from that statement that I have been an independent for longer than I had a ‘normal’ job, so I thought I would mark the milestone with this story. I hope it helps..
It was all a bit scary to start with because the safety net of corporate benefits and redundancy protection were removed. I had negotiated some money to leave and quickly learned lesson number one:-
I decide to take three months off completely and I would definitely recommend it – a period of time with no work responsibilities was a great way to recharge the batteries.
Many people starting out as independents have left their employer on good terms and it is common for that company to be their first customer. That is exactly what happened to me. My old boss asked me to do a couple of small consulting projects which provided the first billable work. But invoicing and being paid are not the same and while the company paid us promptly, I quickly learned about cash flow.
I had some experience of sales and marketing processes from the various roles in Lex and deployed them into Stonac Ltd. It’s surprising how many people you know when you think through. It was easy to build up a database (in Outlook) of contacts. I had some great advice early on which has been the mantra ever since for keeping in touch with people.
The first two years were dominated by two customers with multiple projects and contracted via interim providers. Both emanated from consultants in those providers that I knew already. I haven’t worked via providers for a long time but the lesson holds true today.
During this time, I built contacts, confidence and a bank balance. I also felt it was vital to protect my family so recreated the necessary insurances and protections to ensure that we’d have some money of anything bad happened. It also makes you realise it all needs to be costed into your pricing.
I workes on projects in some new functional areas and new sectors, however, when you reflect on those projects, you can see the similarities. For example, a car dealer network shares many features of a pub group, i.e. multisite, need good logistics, local management responsible for customer service and profit and so on.
And, as they say, the rest is history. Fiona and I work in our business and deploy other freelancers from time to time. We have completed over 100 projects for a range of large organisations over the 16 years since incorporation. The marketing effort is continual, especially as some of our key contacts head off into retirement.
The journey has been challenging and rewarding in equal measure. It is important to evolve your offer to customers but as an independent, this has to be done carefully. Customers require delivery of benefits or reduction of risk and experimenting with methods may not go down well.
Personally, I think the biggest benefit of the independent world is just that, independence. Provided you can generate sufficient revenue, then you have a lot of choice.